And yet the .8-mile hike to the Vernal Fall Bridge is a must for any serious hiker visiting Yosemite National Park. Or in our case, for any serious hiker in training.
That’s because the Vernal Fall Bridge is the first leg of several of the more glamorous hikes in the Valley. It is just past the bridge that the popular Mist Trail and John Muir trail diverge, taking you to the top of Vernal Fall, then on to Nevada Fall and Half Dome, with much to see along the way.
There is another reward for the mostly uphill trek to the bridge: A lovely view of Vernal Fall, especially if you visit in spring or early summer. It’s then that you’ll likely take a bit of mist from the falls back with you down trail.
But we all know kids don’t really care about that stuff. At least not when you’re asking them to hike a steep hill. For what feels like far too long.
To keep this from becoming a death march of sorts for kids, take your time. You could complete this hike in 1 to 2 hours, but with kids along it’s best to rest often.
Bring plenty of snacks. Dare I say a few treats, even? We found these encouraged our somewhat wary hikers to keep up the good work. We also set a goal to have lunch near the bridge, then a sorbet (fruit) bar for dessert back near the trailhead.
To break up our hiking adventure, we also looked for places along the trail to enjoy a little nature play in the shade. And since water levels were low this year, we were even able to dip our toes in the Merced River – usually not an option when the falls are at their peak.
We must have done something right. The kids are determined to make it to the top of Vernal Fall next summer.
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy to moderate; it’s a short hike, but steep most of the way up with a 400 feet elevation gain
Starts From: Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16)
- Trail is paved most of the way but narrow & usually crowded (making strollers less than ideal)
- Estimated hike time is 1 to 2 hours, but with kids along it’s best to take breaks often & plan for a snack or lunch at the bridge
- Bathrooms are located at the Happy Isles shuttle stop & at the footbridge
- Nearest snacks can be found at a concession stand at the Happy Isles shuttle stop
- No picnic tables available at the footbridge
- If you do plan to eat at the footbridge, beware of the squirrels – often hand fed by visitors, they approach people without fear (& may scare kids)
Looking for more things to do in Yosemite with kids? Check out An Insider’s Guide to Exploring Yosemite National Park With Kids.